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Recording Tips: Mike placement for choirs

Here is a compilation of the recording questions I had:

Original post:
Mic Placement:
I have seen a technique used where two mics were placed about twenty feet back in the recording space (a church), and pointed away from the choir. The rationale I heard was that it was a way to pick up the natural reverberation in the hall. At present w
e are placing two small diaphgram mics (SM 75's I believe) in front of the choir, and two omni-directional mics in the back to pick up the reverb. Is this the right process? I am working with a graduate student in recording engineering and am always ten
tative about new techniques.

Water breaks:
I am planning on a four hour session. What have you found appropriate for frequency and length of water breaks in an exteded session for high schoolers?

I don't want to get in to a sharp shooting match with your engineer, but
there are some key point to mention. The SM 57 was originally intended as a
instrument mic. There are some singers who love the sound of those mics but
as a general rule I avoid them for vocals. Depending on your space that you
are working in (i.e. a room with a whole lot of reverb) the far mics will
not have a whole lot of intelligibility. On the same note if those mics are
a great distance from the front mics there will be multiple arrival times
for the music (sound traveling around 1ms for every foot away from the
source). When I add reverb electronically to a mix sometimes I will add
delay of some ms to make the product more interesting. So far please bear in
mind I am not trying to be negative towards your engineer. That persons
technique could be brilliant. In the end you may not know till the product
is completed. As a general rule I will use a stereo pair of good condenser
mics 15-20' in front of the choir and 15' feet in the air. If I need more I
can add two more mics on the out side of the choir but on the same line as
the first two. On the mixing console the stereo pair will be panned to 9:00
and 3:00 and the outside mics will be panned far left and far right. I add
reverb in after the fact.

Blair Ferrier
West Point, NY
Perhaps I might offer a few thoughts? These are based on having sung on a number of recordings/live broadcasts with various choirs, and also having an amateur interest in recording techniques myself. A few things spring to mind; the first is that there are several different schools of thought regarding microphone placement and space mic placement. The important thing, IMHO, is to have space mics in the first place - when recording a choir, a number of engineers seem to forget that they are recording the building as well as the singers. I think that omnis, placed at the back, will provide enough acoustic for you. But, and this brings me on to my second point; after the first take, you must go and listen to what it sounds like, and tell the engineer how you want this sound to change. You are the best judge of the sound that you want - it isn't that he is wrong and you are right, different people like recordings to sound different, and as director it is your role to have it sou!
nd as you want! It's a matter of taste. I can't overestimate the importance of this. It also provides a good occasion for the whole choir to go and listen with you because if you can get the "novelty value" of going and listening out of the way, and seeing all of the wires and speakers etc., then they will be satisfied that they've seen it all, and so will be content not to do so again (that's just a tip, but it's worked in the past...).
Make sure that you have a good producer. A well organised session can be so *painful* for a choir, whilst if they are treated like professionals, then they will probably respond as such. As you know, the role of a producer, in terms of choral stuff, is to have a good ear. When a take is over, his job is to immediately switch on the talk back mechanism and say "trebles you were flat on the F and G at the top of page two, basses one of you sang and E not a G on page 16, the organ played a B instead of a B flat in bar 12, altos you aren't blending properly - I don't think you're all in agreement about what an F is in bar 17, and there was no noticeable dynamic change at the bottom of page one where marked...let's just to the first 2 pages again..." or words to that effect! Basically it makes the sessions much more relaxed because you know why you're doing re-takes, what you got wrong the first time, and you can cut the volume of re-takes down to a minimum if you know that you o!
nly need to do specific sections again. Basically, the producer decides what to pass and what to do again, and which takes should be edited together for the final result. This also makes things smoother for the choir, as you don't have to rush off and listen to the takes constantly, meaning that everything can run smoothly and concentration can be maintained. As a result, a good producer can mean a fabulous recording, and a bad producer won't notice faults, so a less good recording will take place. Possibly sit down with the producer and the engineer beforehand and discuss the kind of sound that you would like - maybe play them a CD or two which is recorded at the correct distance, and with the correct amount of acoustic, for your taste. Anyway, I'm sure you've sorted this out already, just a tip to trust the producer, though, as once you have listened the first time, you shouldn't go and listen again until the 1st break, as this will ruin the choir's concentration. Remember!
, also, the producer will probably hear more through the speakers than
you will have other things on your mind!
Re. breaks, four hours is a long time. I'm used to three hour sessions over three days, and they're tiring enough! I've always been able to take a bottle of water with me into sessions, and we can drink between takes while the producer is talking to us. However, don't let people talk each time a take stops - not only is this rude to the producer, but it's also another way in which their concentration can be completely ruined, very easily! You should probably have two breaks of ten minutes each for people to go to the toilet, eat a sandwich, etc. Again, these must be rigidly adhered to - if the attitude to these is professional, as in everything else, then this will help people to be in the right frame of mind for the other recording session aspects.
Two more little ideas. Start each take with a complete run-through of the piece. This will be useful for the engineer to have when it comes to editing, and also will remind the choir how it is meant to sound as a unity - so many recordings lose the "unity" of a piece, as they are all lots of little bits patched together! Doubtless the final result will be edited, but start of with a reminder of how the piece goes right from beginning to end. Also, if they aren't used to recordings, get a red light. Sounds silly, but it focuses the mind! Get the engineer to switch it on during takes, and tell the choir that when the light is on, they must be silent, not drinking, and ready to sing. It's great at focusing the mind, as I say....
Hope this is of some help, and good luck!
Best wishes,
I have participated in a semi-professional choir that also did that
recording technique. It seemed to work fairly well. The mics nearest
the choir were at about 25%, while the farther mics were at 75%.

I'd go with 45 minutes or maybe an hour at the most between breaks.

Josh Peterson
I've had good luck, both for on-site and studio recording, placing the 2
mics close together, the tips almost touching with a 90-degree difference
such that one faces the left side of the choir at a 45-degree angle and the
other faces the right side. The trick is finding the right placement
between too close (picks up individual voices) and too far (gives no
presence). Using other mics for ambience is something I've not done, but
it might work as long as you will record multi-track and have a mixdown
session to balance how much each mic is contributing.
Let's not be overly tactful; these are also bathroom breaks, and as such
quite necessary. Union rules specify a 10 minute break each hour, which
isn't a bad schedule. With high school kids impress on them ahead of time
that they'll get their breaks, but they have to be back on time and ready
to proceed.

I'm no professional, but I just went through this process. If you want
to hear more individual voices, place the mics close to the choir, and
further away if you want more of the room.

Experiment with the sound during the first 30 minutes until you find one
you like.

Four hours is entirely TOO LONG. You will find your singers exhausted
after 1.5 hours--recording is a very stressful process. You will find
that you are UNABLE to make a good recording past the 2 hour mark. For
better results, change to two recording sessions.

Good luck, and please let me know about your experience . . .

Dr. Philip L. Copeland
Let your singers have water bottles with them all the time. There are
always little break-lets when you finish a take and the engineer is futzing
to get ready for the next take. No need to give them special "water
breaks" -- let the breaks be to rest their tired voices and bodies,
preferable by sitting on the ground.

For a four-hour session, I'd give them a 10-minute break after an hour and
10 minutes (from 1:10 to 1:20), another 10-minute break between 2:00 and
2:10, and a final break of 5-10 minutes before your last 20 minutes of
recording time, just to get them through the home stretch. Recording is
grueling work even if you're a veteran at it like me.

I'm not sure your reverb mikes need to be pointed backwards. Test it out
onsite both ways and see what you like. Your engineer should be able to
test-mix on the fly with a 4-channel mixing board.

Jonathan Miller
There is no "right" process, as so much is dependent on the natural sound of
the hall and the maturation and musicality of the group. How large is your
group? You may have better results using three or four cardioids across the
front of the group and adding some digital reverb to the mix. Or using a
center pattern cardioid stereo pair, and the two omnis as "pull-outs" to the
left and right at the same distance and facing the choir.

But to answer your question, a cardioid stereo pair for the "mains" in an
"x-y" pattern or in an ORTF pattern facing the choir, with a pair of omnis
for room reverb is a very common approach. With "real" omnis, facing them
towards or away from the choir should make no difference in the sound
(cardioids should be faced away)--but some omnis are somewhat directional at
the higher frequencies. To use this technique, find the spot in the room
where the reveb "turns around", that is, where you hear more reverb and room
than direct sound when you face the choir. That is a good starting placement
for your reverb omnis.

How good is the quality of the natural room reverb? Is it enhancing or
detracting from the direct sound? You may not want to waste two channels of
sound on some not-so-great reverb, when you might have a more balanced sound
of your choir by using three (or four mics) across the front and add the
reverb using a decent outboard reverb unit (Lexicon, Yamaha, e.g.). If you
use three mics across the front (say three evenly spaced cardioids), you
could reserve the fourth one for any soloists, or a piano spot mic, etc.
Without knowing your space and chorus, I would recommend (if you can)
experimenting with a number of placements and see what works best.

Good luck.

Best wishes,

Steve Barnett
I woudn't put them that far back; about 6 feet behind the podium is
ptimal. -Ian Loeppky
The microphone placement sounds all right to me. I'm not sure that's how
I'd do it, but it should work OK. I'd like some more detail as to the
microphones you're planning to use (I'm fairly certain there isn't an
SM-75 - at least not currently in production or in the Shure catalog). We
need to make sure that you're using a nice, powerful but mellow condensor
mic for your choir mics, and something pretty sensitive for your room

Could you get me actual model numbers for these mics?



Tom Tropp

Garrett Lathe
Vocal Music Director
Sartell High School
748 Seventh St. N.
Sartell, MN 56377

on October 26, 2005 10:00pm
SM75 is predominant in its use for instruments but have been used with some success for choral. Having produced a number of recordings i would hesitate or actually avoid trying the room reverb idea. If you need an ambient sound use sm58 Land Righ of the chior about four feet away and thre feet above.

Hope tghis helps

on April 11, 2006 10:00pm
I'm in a number of choirs, and have been recording them for many years. Most recordings are made during concert performances, and this brings a number of problems not met in formal recording sessions.

I have found that a coincident pair of fig.8 mics set at 90 degrees to each other gives both a pleasing spread and reflects well on the building's acoustics. (Nothing new, Alan Blumlein, when experimenting with stereo in the 1930s tried a similar technique!). I use Sennheiser C414s for this, and place the mics about 12 feet up and about 12 feet behind the conductor - though in a 'live' performance, positioning can be compromised by audience seating, sight lines etc. In addition, I fly a stereo mic high over the rear of the choir as in the UK at least, there is a shortage of male singers, and the tenors and basses often need a liitle help! (A long boom is required if there is not time to suspend mics from cord).

For the soloists, I generally use a pair of Sennheisers (one for each soloist position). As I am usually recording on my own, and am singing in the choir as well, I record each mic onto a separate track of a digital multi-track, and mix later. Generally, the soloists can be heard on the main stereo pair, but I add just a touch of their mics to enhance clarity and reduce their perspective.

My main problem is separating choir from orchestra. With the front row of the choir standing up against the back of the chairs of the brass and woodwind, this is a tricky one. I'm trying (with long booms) to get mics above the front of the choir as well, but conductors tend to object to too much 'clutter' during 'their' performance, and brass gets everywhere!

One last adventage of fig. 8 mics. They are usually very even (frequency wise), and when the audience applauds (which we hope it will!), the applause sounds to be in the same hall/church as the performers!

Hope you find this interesting.

Lloyd Silverthorne
Music Dynamics

on December 10, 2007 10:00pm
Err, AKG, not Sennheiser, makes the C414. And the difference between AKG 414s of whatever variety and the Sennheiser MKH series is beyond huge.
on January 15, 2008 10:00pm
An excellent technique for mic placement is to walk around the room as the choir is warming up, plugging one ear. (This is the way ANY non-stereo) mic "hears". The best spot can often be directly above the director or near the director for an XY or ORTF pattern or even AB with omnis.
Be very conscious of phase issues when using more than one mic. If you can, listen to the mics in mono mode. If you can make it sound good in mono, it should sound excellent in stereo regardless of the placement.
I've found that height is often as important as (if not more) important than distance. If I can get the mics up to 8-12' near the director I can usually get a good sense of blend and maintain the vitality of the diction and tone that can be lost if the mics are too far away.
I moderate on a recording web site ( and we have some real pros who can step you through specifics of venues and equipment issues in the acoustic music forum. (Do a search on the site for lots of info.)I am a recording hobbyist, but a full time choral director and singer. My high school choir records every year and with the right equipment and knowledge it can have a huge financial and educational impact on your program. Instead of pizzas and candy, we sell a holiday CD every year and earn anywhere from $5-15,000/year! depending on number of sales. Great for the students, parents, community PR, etc...
Good luck

Phil Olson
Brookfield Central HS
Brookfield WI